Food Sources of The Good Fats: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids belong to a class of fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). They differ from saturated fats that are common to non-skim dairy products and beef in that PUFAs have been linked to many health benefits while saturated fats have not.

Health Benefits of Omega-3s
Evidence suggests that omega-3s may have these benefits:

  • Omega-3s help lower elevated triglyceride levels. High triglyceride levels can contribute to Coronary Heart Disease.
  • They decrease the risk of Arrhythmia, an abnormality in the rhythm of the heart. Arrhythmia can sometimes be life-threatening, but before using supplements for this purpose, talk to your doctor.
  • They reduce the tendency for blood to clot. Blood clotting is a life-saving process in response to a cut or similar trauma, but blood clots that occur inside intact blood vessels can contribute to the clogging that occurs with Atherosclerosis. Omega-3s make blood thinner and able to flow more easily, which may decrease the risk of Heart Attack and Stroke.
  • Omega-3s reduce the inflammation involved in conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis.
  • They improve symptoms of Depression and other mental health disorders in some individuals. This is a relatively new finding and warrants further research.

As more research becomes available, it is likely the benefits of Omega-3 consumption will become more apparent. Current research is showing Omega-3s to be quite important for overall general health. They are almost certain to have significant benefits for heart health. Everyone’s diet should include these important sources of omega-3s — fish, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables.

Best Sources of Omega-3s
Fatty fish is the primary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Try replacing foods rich in saturated fats by eating a lot of fish. A good target for omega-3s is 1 to 2 grams daily. You do need to be careful about which fish you consume in large amounts because some fish contain significant amounts of mercury and may be harmful if eaten in excess.

For example, while albacore tuna is an excellent source of omega-3s, the FDA recommends eating no more than six ounces weekly because of its mercury content. Totally avoid king mackerel even though it is an excellent source of omega-3s. Shark and swordfish are also very high in mercury.

Refer to the chart below; most of the fish listed are low enough in mercury that the FDA recommends up to two six-ounce servings weekly, and the American Heart Association suggests “at least two servings” of 6-7 ounces.

Fish or other food source Omega-3 content in a 4-ounce serving
Chinook salmon 3.6 grams
Sockeye salmon 2.3 grams
Albacore tuna 2.6 grams
Mackerel 1.8-2.6 grams
Herring 1.2-2.7 grams
Rainbow trout 1.0 grams
Whiting 0.9 grams
King crab 0.6 grams
Shrimp 0.5 grams
Cod 0.3 grams
Tofu 0.4 grams
(probably much less in ‘lite’ tofu)
Spinach 0.9 grams
English walnuts 6.8 grams
Wheat germ and oat germ 0.7 – 1.4 grams

Canned light tuna, crab, flounder, oysters, and shrimp are relatively low in mercury and provide quite good levels of omega-3s in a 6-7 ounce serving. Omega-3s are also provided by: soybean and canola oils, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and leafy green vegetables.

REFERENCES:

American Heart Association. The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food & Nutrition Guide . Chronimed Publishing, 1998.

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